Most angiosperms plants use animals as vector for their gametes, and the interaction of plants with their pollinators represents a key mutualism for ecosystem functioning as well as for human nutrition. For maintaining interactions with pollinators, plants have evolved floral signals, such as color and fragrance. In the proposed research, functions and evolution of floral signals will be investigated in model systems representing key components of ecosystems and agriculture. In the first part, functions of floral signals will be investigated in the context of a plant’s dilemma arising through the need of attracting pollinators, but at the same time deterring herbivores. Fitness effects of herbivore-induced floral volatiles in different biotic environments, synergistic effect with visual cues, and the molecular bases will be analyzed. In the second topic, the maintenance of mutualistic associations will be studied in a so-called open nursery pollination system, where plant-pollinator associations can vary between mutualisms and antagonism. Cost/benefit ratios of this association and thus selection for/against nursery pollinators will be quantified in different populations, and corresponding floral adaptations, such as signals attracting/deterring pollinators/parasitoids as well as oviposition cues for pollinators will be analyzed. The third part will focus on pollinator/herbivore-induced selection on floral traits, adaptations to specific pollinators, and plant speciation. In an experimental approach, the evolution of floral traits under selection will be directly quantified, by imposing plants over several generations to mutualist/antagonist-driven selection. Diversification through adaptation to different pollinators will be investigated in a second experiment. In a highly specialized pollination system, floral signals mediating specific pollinator attraction and thus delivering reproductive isolation and their genetic basis will be studied.
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